For the third time this morning Mary looks through all the spaces,
turns her head left, right, imperceptibly
then tilts forward, bending herself in half,
walks, folded, with tiny, quick steps,
searching along the edge of skirting,
under a wooden chair.
She pulls herself upright, stands,
then bends herself around objects, feels pieces of furniture, cushions,
peers inside a dusty glass vase,
shakes a bottle,
moves her hand along surface after surface.
Inch by inch, Mary scrutinises.
– There’s not enough time for this.
Her left ear whistles,
her head fills with a noise not unlike untuned radio stations, not calming.
Mary looks at the coat-hooks, feels around the last jacket she wore, her fingers digging in the pockets.
the keys aren’t there, she knew that.
Stand, very still, collect.
Mary closes her eyes, slowly breathes in
through her nose,
and out through the small opening of her lips.
The key to calm is breathing,
but the key to her flat is missing.
She opens her eyes, swallows then, turning around, with miniscule movements, steps forward, looks back, forward …
And again, through the flat.
‘Retrace every step,’
from the front door and into the kitchen.
Mary touches all the hooks that she recently screwed to the back of the door,
a place for storing keys.
She walks from the kitchen to the sitting room.
Mary drops her body softly to the floor and rolls over, lies on her back.
Mary sits up, gets on to her knees and crawls across the room on all fours, her fingers widespread, star-like,
sweeping across the carpet,
“You’d lose your head if it wasn’t screwed on so tight.”
Mary pulls herself back up to standing,
pushes away the image of a screw-on head,
deleted from her mind.
Not a time for an annoying turn of phrase,
… can I pick your brains?
Why do people say such things?
Worst of all is saying someone is ‘mad,’ as if they themselves are not …
who can measure madness versus not?
“Retrace your steps,”
it’s what she always says,
He had loved her, or seemed to …
And then he also hated her.
Which is why he left, or she asked him to leave, somewhere in between that mutual partition,
Ben forever angered by suggestions such as tracing steps …
“But it really does work,” Mary would say …
and, if he wasn’t too enraged, she might carry on …
“… it’s an extra sense we have when our minds can’t remember. Inside us we do actually know where we have put things, it’s amazing, our bodies remember everything!”
Her own advice now.
It will work, it does work.
Retrace your steps.
Mary revisits herself arriving home yesterday, unlocking the door,
the pockets in the clothes she wore …
She lifts her arms out and up high, to widen her lung capacity,
to help her breathe.
She will remember.
She lies on her back, closes her eyes, and imagines …
a miniature Mary, walking through a map, a set design of the flat …
She can’t see the moment.
The moment she placed the keys …
Mary pulls herself up and stands, not able to see much, no proper focus,
the veins inside her temples pump,
a sense of nausea …
dry throat, tongue, teeth.
This time she’s going to fall,
Moon will be waiting at the train station, cold.
Sweet as he is, hopeful at first …
searching the faces of disembarking people …
She lets him down.
She will not,
That isn’t who Mary wants to be.
You’re on your own Mary.
So was Moon. On his own.
There was a time when he had lived like a wild man, on the edges of roads, railway tracks, in prisons, shelters.
Moon would find his way back, like a cat, to Mary.
He would ask for money, tobacco, food …
and be off again, into the dark night.
Mary lowers herself back to her knees, eyes open, crawls like a predatory cat, across the living room carpet once more.
Deepest indigo, artery red, clotted cream, a soft sky blue … touch of dusky pink on the petals of the central flower.
Dyed, thick, hand-woven.
Mary stretches herself out on the carpet, face down, smells the wool.
Kav and Patena gave her this carpet,
Iranian friends, she only knew them for a year or so.
They moved cities, lost touch.
Good, organised, generous people, they helped Mary out when she first moved into the flat.
“I have many rugs, you need a rug, please, take it,” said Patena.
It was a Saturday afternoon. Patena turned up, out of the blue, with her husband, Kav. They walked up the steps, one behind the other, straight through the door into Mary’s new flat, the huge rug, rolled up and over both their shoulders like a prize stag.
The rug unfolded across the bare wooden floor, magic.
If Patena had a brother like Moon, she would always be on time for him, and bring him rugs.
They must be hiding in the carpet pattern,
They fell from her bag, yes, they are here.
Mary urges the carpet to surrender them.
Now’s not the time…
She’ll miss the train.
Bad sister, did she do this on purpose?
Is that what Moon will think?
and his carers, they will think that.
Is that narcissism, to worry what they think?
Does she care enough about her brother?
or does she care what her brother’s carers will think?
A swelling sensation fills her ears, as if with too much air …
she can’t locate it,
Every part of her senses feels wrong …
It happens, this.
Mary knows … and she can’t stop it,
and then she can.
She’s not mad.
If Ben did ever love her, he didn’t love this.
He would grow angry. He would say she was mad.
Anyway, he’s gone now. So that’s that.
Mary sits up cross-legged in the middle of the rug.
That’s all over now,
like the shift of a scene in a film, wipe.
Mary pulls herself up,
lifts her bag from the chair where she’d placed it, all packed, ready to leave an hour ago
when she was calm
before she knew she didn’t have her keys.
Already checked; the keys are not in the bag.
Mary tips the bag out on to the kitchen counter, willing the hard sound of brass Chubb on wood
… if only…
She puts everything back …
the navy tissue-wrapped gift; a new phone for Moon’s birthday.
Moon loves gadgets.
Her wallet; debit, credit, cash …
She checks the lid is properly on a pen, drops that back in the bag,
flicks open her notebook; the keys are not hidden inside that either…
hand sanitizer, hand cream …mask.
And her mobile and charger, that’s all.
Scrunching her eyes tight, nose wrinkled, like Dorothy wishing, heel-clicking,
she psychic messages her keys …
it’s an inanimate object.
That can work.
Mary’s done that before,
knows there’s a cosmic possibility the keys will appear.
Moon will be upset if she’s late, there’s only one train an hour.
He’ll think she didn’t want to come.
Moon would never miss a train.
Moon is reset and now lives as perfect order personified,
always on time.
Mary feels hot, clammy, pale…
Moon used to tell her that her lateness could increase his psychosis.
“My stress levels go up…” he’d say.
Mary tries not to panic,
That was before mobile phones and texts,
at least there is that now.
She pushes her bag across the table, lays her head on her hands.
Be there for him.
Be more. Be the rock,
A swollen sounds fills Mary’s ears again.
… there… it’s there, hovering in the space between her eardrums … temples, throat …
Mary stands, paces around the small kitchen to …
A cup of tea with sugar, help …
as it would a person who’s been in a car accident.
she can breathe
Mary fills the kettle, it boils,
she sits at the table,
stares at the brown, incomplete circular mark from a hot cup, no coasters.
Mary drinks the sweet tea, feels better
inner ears clear.
No big breaths into brown paper bags, not for her.
Restoration: Mary is a rock
… in a forest, patterns spread across its body,
wiggly lines of whitish, Verdigris lichen,
fungi meeting moss, a beautiful harmonious marriage.
It’s time, come on, find the keys now.
He will have prepared,
impeccably dressed, he will check his watch often.
Mary should call, tell him she’s late.
Text, that’ll be easier…
– Hi Moon, slight delay, don’t worry, I’ll sort it.
– Okay May
Moon started calling himself Moon and Mary ‘May’ when they were teenagers.
It stuck, just between them.
Outside chirrups from tits, blackbird, finches, a green parrot squeak, winter’s end.
Cars hum from the main road.
Mary is breathing, her inner ear, free, her head clear.
She walks into the middle of her living room, the plain tree swaying outside her window, the linen curtains flow back and forth from the window to the chalk white walls.
Mary closes the window, everything settles, all seems clear.
She hopes Moon won’t be sitting on the station platform,
Moon didn’t used to come and meet her from the train.
He’d be waiting, perhaps sitting on the wall, or standing, outside the door of his sheltered home. He’d know what time she was due to arrive, would be looking out for her as she came up the hill from the station.
Sometimes she’d see him stand in the middle of the road, waving his arms, huge waves, as if she was a plane that needed help landing in the fog.
Now he has his own flat. Independent living, home comforts.
A framed poster hangs on the living room wall:
“Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”
“It’s a quote from John Lennon,” Moons says, almost every time she visits.
He loves that he knows this. He agrees with Lennon.
Nothing much happens for Moon except ‘life.’
Once a great deal happened.
Mary was still at school. He’d run away from home, or had he been thrown out?
He barely ever came back after that, or he wasn’t allowed.
If he did turn up it was most often at night. He’d call up to Mary’s bedroom window to ask for money and cigarettes, then he’d disappear. And he did that for over a year, then he was missing for a long time.
Even more stick-thin than before, and extremely leather-tanned and filthy, Moon was sat on the front steps one day when Mary got home from school.
Ping-pong eyes, a shock on his face with its hollow cheeks.
“Bath time,” Mary sang, joking nervously.
Moon followed Mary inside the house, around the kitchen, then to her room and back to the kitchen.
He stared at her continuously.
“You’ve got a purple aura,” he said.
His matted hair stood up; his scabbed, bare feet stank.
Maggie, their father’s girlfriend, got back from shopping. She took one look, laughed meanly at the state of him, waving the air regarding the smell.
“Your brother’s a nutter,” she said to Mary, barely suppressing a mean smirk then,
“I’m going out, your father can deal with this,” leaving them both in the kitchen.
“What happened?” Mary asked Moon.
Moon looked like he’d cry so Mary made tea.
Home from work, Dad was sad.
He turned, long enough to give Mary a strained, smile.
“Michael, son, let’s go in the front room and have a chat, eh?”
Only Mary called him Moon. Everyone else called him ‘Michael.’
Mary crawled to a place on the hall landing where she could just see through the jar of the door to the front room.
Moon, sitting on the couch beside their dad. Awkward, sweaty, mumbling,
and then Dad’s low voice,
“Have you taken any drugs, son?”
Moon’s head hanging.
Bless me father for I have sinned.
Silent, enormous teardrops falling,
silent as night.
Mary huddled on the landing as it grew dark, endlessly sobbed into her knees.
Mary will find them.
She will leave, and get the next train, arrive, and smile.
What Mary really wants is not to be a rock, Mary wants a rock.
Dad found it hard to be a rock. He wanted to be a rock, then he died.
In Moon’s clockwork life, he has rocks, paid capable, caring, calm rocks.
Mary’s not his rock. Mary is chaos and causes psychosis.
…find the keys!
Mary was the well one … able,
expected not to lose things like keys, to arrive on time.
It was a secret. Moon’s breakdown.
Moon went to hospital. Mary went to school.
She hid in a dark cupboard.
There were damp mops standing with their soggy heads up, buckets, brooms and Mary, solitary confined, crying in isolation.
As if Moon had died. This one who looked a bit like him, is not him, where is he?
… Come on!
stop going back over tracks,
Moon’s rebuilt now,
sweet, peaceful, medicated, well.
Where are the keys?
Retracing, again, the steps she took the night before …this has become so boring.
Time – 9.20 am.
Too late for the 9.27
Mary texts Moon again:
– I’m running late, so sorry … Next train, promise!
– Okay May (thumbs up emoji)
That’s a good sign, the thumbs up.
Mary relaxes a little.
– Sorry Bro, just can’t find my keys.
– Don’t worry, May, life is what happens when you’re making other plans
– Ha, yes! So it is!
– I’ll be waiting for you, May (smiley face emoji)
– Thanks, don’t come to the station though.
– I’m already at the station May.
-Okay, sorry! Mary replies.
– Don’t worry. I’m used to it by now, May. You’re always late. I’ve brought my book. I’m reading Lord of The Rings. It’s really good. I don’t mind waiting for you.
Moon speaks to her as if he’s her psychiatrist,
nods, says ‘mmm.’
And he uses her name, a lot.
Mary’s in the room, her kitchen. No more panic.
She leans against the tall fridge; its magnets fall from the door.
She kneels to pick them up.
Partly obscured by the bottom of the fridge, is the Lancashire red rose keyring that once belonged to their dad. He’d bought it on a pilgrimage of his childhood, back in the eighties, she’d kept it when he died; uses it for her keys now,
her door keys.
She picks them up.
“You heard me.”